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Recall of Members

Volume 553: debated on Tuesday 20 November 2012

2. What progress he has made on introducing a process of recall for hon. Members found guilty of serious wrongdoing. (128849)

7. What progress he has made on introducing a process of recall for hon. Members found guilty of serious wrongdoing. (128854)

Last year, the Government published their draft Bill on the recall of MPs for pre-legislative scrutiny by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, whose report was published in June this year. The Government submitted an interim response confirming that we remain committed to establishing a recall mechanism that is robust, transparent and fair. We are now taking proper time to reflect on the Committee’s recommendations.

For some, life in politics can be a bit like a jungle, and a popular vote may help to decide whether or not someone should stay. When a Member of this House is found guilty of serious wrongdoing and does not walk away themselves, should not a popular vote by their constituents provide a chance to “get them out of there”?

Obviously, the devil is in the detail, and the issue is how we as a House define what serious wrongdoing is. I never thought that disappearing to a jungle on the other side of the planet would be one of the things we would have to grapple with on this recall issue. I very much hope to make progress, and we are certainly working actively in government to achieve it. It was a manifesto commitment of all the main parties in this Parliament to introduce a recall mechanism, but to do that we need to arrive at a common understanding of what constitutes serious wrongdoing and what does not.

If I may press the Deputy Prime Minister a little further, does his reply not suggest that it is up to Parliament to define serious wrongdoing, which might give the impression to constituents that it is a case of the poacher turning gamekeeper? Surely it should be up to the majority of our constituents, perhaps through some sort of referendum, to decide what constitutes wrongdoing. Whether it be crossing the Floor, disappearing and not helping constituents, being found guilty of fraud or whatever, it is surely our constituents’ job to determine that.

We have said that there is a sort of double trigger. First, whether in law or otherwise, we need some kind of approximate understanding of what constitutes serious wrongdoing. I do not think anyone would want this recall mechanism to be triggered for frivolous reasons or for partisan point scoring. The second trigger is that 10% of constituents sign a petition calling for a by-election. It is that basic design that we are still working towards.

It is almost as serious as destroying the British economy, which is of course what the Labour party did when it was in office.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister have any plans to extend recall to other posts such as police and crime commissioners? In north Wales, for example, an independent elected last Thursday subsequently turned out to be a member of the Liberal Democrat party. Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that that would constitute grounds for recall?

I know the right hon. Gentleman thinks otherwise, but being a member of the Liberal Democrats is not yet a crime. By the way—[Interruption.]

Order. This is Question Time; Members cannot divide the House now. There is no opportunity for that.

This is Labour illiberalism pushed to new extremes—and at least, by the way, it was not necessary for Greenpeace to film that candidate secretly before we knew what his views were, which seems to have been the case elsewhere.

We believe that the principle of recall should be extended—for instance, we should like it to be extended to the European Parliament—but, as I have already said in answer to earlier questions, we must first get the mechanisms and the definitions in the Bill right.